Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which features early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now God’s own people were acting like jackals.
Malachi had now delivered four of his six oracles
Oracle 1—God chose the Hebrew people as God’s own. (1:2-5)
Oracle 2—Blemished sacrifices were polluting God’s table. (1:6-2:9)
Oracle 3—Marital infidelity illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:10-16)
Oracle 4—Divorce illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:17-3:6)
Malachi now addressed the question left hanging in the fourth, “Where is the God of justice?”
Where is the God of Justice?
Few of us have escaped the pain of injustice in our lives. Every child I have ever met can tell me about something they feel is unfair—and they are right! One of our early lessons in life is that life actually is unfair. Small mistakes can launch lasting and awful consequences, whereas great crimes can go unpunished. People get taken advantage of, predators find hapless prey and victimize them, wrongs go without being righted, and justice can seem elusive indeed for those forced to exist on the fringes of society.
For the people of Judah, struggling so hard to eke out a living, making do as best they could, surrounded by hostile nations, trying to make sense of their hardships when they had expected blessings, the current circumstances must have felt terribly unjust. Their understanding of scripture seemed to indicate a quid pro quo relationship with God. If they followed the commandments, God would enrich them . . . but it was not working out that way. Wearily, they may have wondered where is the God of Justice?
For the women of other faiths who had married these returning Jewish exiles, who had begun families with them, and had failed to put their faith in God, Malachi’s oracle, and Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms must have felt harsh and cruel—and their husbands must have been equally crushed by the loss of their wives and families.
Where is the God of Justice? They might have cried.
And again, those women who had experienced faithlessness, abuse, and even violence from their spouses, only to find themselves divorced may also have cried out, Where is the God of Justice?
Mercy Overcomes Justice
But God’s next word to the people was a prophecy of mercy, not justice.
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.Malachi 3:1 (NRSV)
You and I immediately recognize this as a prophetic reference to John the Baptist.
And the ancients also understood this as a Messianic promise, but they did not fully understand how it would be fulfilled. They thought Messiah would appear magically, perhaps descending from the heavens to settle as God’s Shekinah of old in the temple courts.
When Jesus endured forty days of fasting and testing in the wilderness (symbolic of the Hebrews’ Exodus), Satan tempted Christ with an allusion to fulfilling this popular prediction.
The devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’Satan quoting Psalm 91:11-12, Matthew 4:5-6 (NRSV)
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
The temple was on top of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Most commentators think the devil took Jesus to the top of the temple’s main tower, overlooking the temple court with a one hundred and eighty foot drop, where every morning a priest would blow the trumpet to greet the dawn.
Many of the scholars and teachers of that day expected something very like what Satan was suggesting. The devil insinuated that if Jesus would just do this, those faithful who studied the scriptures would see the Messiah coming in a miraculous way, lifted up by the angels, and they would all believe in Jesus.
In fact, Jesus did fulfill Malachi’s prophecy, just in a very unexpected and startling way—He suddenly appeared in the Court of the Gentiles, overturning the tables of the money-changers, and freeing the animals being sold as sacrifices!
The Lord’s answer to the cry for justice begins with Messiah, but God’s answer continues with the promise to return and bring just judgment. However, God will begin with God’s own people.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
. . . Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness . . .Malachi 3:2-3, 5 (NRSV)
The apostle Peter referred to this answer from God when he wrote,
Glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?”
Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.1 Peter 4:16-19 (NRSV)
Peter pointed out a basic connection between suffering and spiritual growth, and God’s grace and provision as a caring and faithful Creator.
God is the Judge of all people, but the Lord is not eager to bring about condemnation and punishment. Rather, since before even the foundation of the earth was laid, God has determined to bring about redemption and restoration.
One of the earliest revelations of God is as compassionate, long‑suffering, and forgiving. God is not distant, but so close the Lord lives within the inner being of every believer. God is so intimately involved in our lives that the Lord experiences everything with us, and is available to us at all times, in all places, under every condition.
Peter paraphrased a Proverb to make his point, writing If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?
If the righteous are repaid on earth,Proverbs 11:31 (NRSV)
how much more the wicked and the sinner!
That word hard does not mean that it is hard for God to save the righteous, or that it is hard for the righteous to save themselves. It is well within God’s power to save us and it is impossible for you and I to save ourselves!
Peter was saying this process of being purified is hard on those who have already put their faith in God, love and revere God, seek to live by God’s words, will, and ways, and welcome the chance to live in the Spirit of Christ, even to the point of having fellowship in Christ’s suffering. So, if it is hard on Christians, then think how infinitely more awful it is to endure God’s righteous judgment on those who refuse to humble themselves to God.
The writer of Hebrews exhorted believers to be encouraged not to lose heart at God’s rebuke, but to understand the Lord disciplines those whom God loves. God does allow us to suffer, God even at times brings hardship into our lives – because the Lord loves us.
Because God cares about us.
Because God is committed to us, God disciplines, or rather trains, us for our good, so you and I can be holy in the way God is holy.
Where is the God of Justice? God does promise to right all wrongs one day, but that will be a great and terrible day. Meanwhile, we take heart in knowing
The path of suffering, both for Jesus and for his followers, will end in glory
Those who have put their faith in Christ understand that through this process we will always experience spiritual growth.